Kissinger: Peacemaker or War Criminal? / BBC documentary presents the case against a statesman
(3 1/2 STARS) THE TRIALS OF HENRY KISSINGER (U). Relentlessly methodical
account of the war crimes currently being laid at the feet of former secretary
of state and modern Metternich Henry Kissinger. Sober, sobering, exhilarating,
revelatory. Inspired by the Christopher Hitchens book (and Harper's magazine
articles), "The Trial of Henry Kissinger." Written by Alex Gibney. Directed by
Eugene Jarecki. Narrator: Brian Cox. 1:20 (carnage). At Film Forum, 209 W.
Houston St., Manhattan.
In the face of worldwide antipathy, George W. Bush insists on invading
Court. Americans still stand around drop-jawed about how anti-U.S. sentiment
could have ever resulted in a Sept. 11. And along comes "The Trials of Henry
How often does a movie actually mean something? Not about drama or acting
or art but about the state and the soul of the union, and whether we're a
nation that can actually learn from its past?
A piece of reportage that should profoundly depress anyone in or interested
in journalism - because the information has all been there waiting to be
collected, because corporations run news companies, because there's so much
muck and so few are raking - "The Trials of Henry Kissinger" never actually
accuses Kissinger of anything. It's far too matter-of-fact and, besides, it
really doesn't have to. Journalist Christopher Hitchens (whose writings
provoked the movie), weighs in, as do other Kissinger foes such as Seymour
Hersh, Michael Tigar and William Shawcross, but even the presumed Kissinger
defense of the Nobel laureate and uber-diplomat (Haig is reduced to calling
Hitchens someone who "sucks the sewer pipe," whatever that means). The
documentation speaks for itself.
The film's rap sheet: How Kissinger engineered the collapse of the '68
Richard Nixon's ambitions); how he choreographed the overthrow of the
just-elected Salvador Allende (on 9/11/73), setting the stage for 17 years of
brutal, Augusto Pinochet dictatorship; how he helped execute the secret bombing
of Cambodia which - although the film is careful not to draw conclusions -
millions, and how he approved Indonesia's use of U.S.-supplied weapons to
murder 100,000 East Timorese.
Kissinger doesn't appear, which is hardly surprising, considering that he's
been called as a witness in six different countries in cases against Pinochet
and has refused each demand. But his presence isn't necessary, not in the
interest of balance. If there's a question of objectivity - and, again, this
BBC-produced documentary jumps to no conclusions - it is rendered moot by
Kissinger's godlike status in the bleary history of late 20th-century
diplomacy. Haig offers a prime example of what the film is up against -
criticize Henry Kissinger? One might as well criticize Mother Teresa (which
Hitchens has quite deftly done, in his time). The man has been untouchable up
to now. There's no reason to think he won't remain so, especially with the Bush
administration trying its hardest to exempt him and others from ever answering
for their actions.
What we have is a movie that informs, fascinates and leaves one with an
ugly taste in the mouth. There's nothing intentionally sensationalistic about
"The Trials of Henry Kissinger," no overheated narration (actor Brian Cox does
a splendid job of staying in control) and there are only the most timid
juxtapositions of implicating footage. What we see in "Kissinger" is less
devastating than what we hear, and what we hear is truly stranger than fiction.
And much, much uglier than fiction ever dares to be.